Civil servants, civic dutyNearly 300 senior members of two civil servant unions - the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union and the Korean Government Employees’ Union - are alleged to have joined political parties or donated funds to them, acts that are illegal for civil servants here. Jeong Jin-hu, the head of the teachers’ union, has long acted as a member of the minority opposition Democratic Labor Party, donating funds to the party every month. As law-abiding citizens, civil servants act as important role models for society. It is a grave matter if they have been defying the law by participating in political activities. The police should investigate the matter thoroughly and enforce the law when illegalities are found.
Unionized teachers and government officials have many times been bold in their political assertions. More often than not, they have stood side by side with opposition party members and citizen activists in the streets, rallying against the government and its policies. Yet they say that their participation in street rallies cannot be defined as “political activity,” capitalizing on the gray areas in the law.
The Jeonju District Court recently ruled that executive members of the North Jeolla branch of the teachers’ union are not guilty of violating the law in their public condemnation of the government, saying that the court recognizes the defendants’ claim that they were simply “expressing views as citizens of the country.
But becoming a member of and giving funds to a political party clearly undermines the law and presents another pernicious problem.
These public officials could not have been ignorant of the Civil Service Law, which clearly states that a person engaged in civil service cannot be involved in a political party or organization.” They cannot support or oppose a particular political party or individual during elections and they cannot offer financial donations. If they want to make a political donation, they must submit it to the Election Commission. If they supported or provided funding to an opposition political party while receiving government pay, they would be in clear violation of the law, as well as the code of ethics for civil servants.
Meanwhile, the political party that accepted their membership or donation should also be held to account. Society would suffer if its civil servants were to lose their neutrality and started supporting one political force or another.
The government is now planning to dismiss officials suspected of illegal political activities.
Before they hit the ceiling about the government’s decision, the unions should reflect on the matter. Civil servants who are really interested in becoming involved in politics should do so after they resign their public status.